Valerie and Jean have been busy having fun.
Since New York Fashion Week kicked off a week ago, they’ve partied, modeled, watched models, partied some more and then blogged about it. On September 3 the duo – also known as the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas after their style blog – were named among the 50 most stylish New Yorkers by the fashion-empowerment site StyleCaster, which organized a party and a street-style photo shoot. Yesterday, a photo from that shoot (above) was featured in Entertainment Weekly.
They seem to be negotiating their blossoming fame with a mixture of OMG breathlessness and the perspective that comes from having a few decades behind you. They attribute the visibility to their blog, which they started in 2009; although they’ve been dressing up since they can remember, it was blogging that earned them invites to events where they rub shoulders with the likes of Ana Wintour; Wintour recognized them with a hello at the Met’s Costume Institute gala – a sure sign of arrival!
Valerie and Jean say they are “aging with verve” – which is the opposite of doing it gracefully, the buzzword of the moment in aging circles.
We talked to the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas by phone between their 9-5 jobs and their after-work Fashion Week escapades.
Your blog has grown a sizable following! Who’s reading it?
Jean A lot of non fashion week establishment types follow us – older women as well as younger women and guys. They get it that being older isn’t a death sentence: We have fun doing what we’re doing; older women are not invisible; rules are made to be broken. You don’t need to follow fashion.
Valerie They get permission; they get validation; they see there are people doing what they want to do. We don’t get negative comments – all we get is people who say, Where did you get that? We’re almost a psychological outlet for older women. Younger women say, I don’t have to be afraid of getting old now.
Jean For people who are interested, we show them what you can do with funky little things.
Valerie We show how you can play with your clothes. We made a pair of matching hats: We had the hats; we bought a can of red spray pint and sprayed the hats red.
Jean We’re showing that we’re not home knitting and sitting in front of the TV eating bon-bons.
What about people who aren’t interested – how important is style?
Valerie I have no head for math – I have a head for color. It’s not for everyone.
Jean We were on TV, and I caught some negative comments. There were comments like, Who do you think you are? Sit down and shut up. If I had negative feedback all the time in a small town it would be really hard. In New York, people aren’t telling you your business. But there are women who’ve given up. That is not healthy. If you don’t take care of the outer, you’re not taking care of the inner. Getting dressed up is not a priority, but if you’re not getting your mammograms, that’s a problem.
Valerie I think it’s also that Jean sailed through menopause and I did not. I did the Michelin woman thing and I had a closet full of clothes I couldn’t wear. You put it on, and it does a number on your self image when you don’t look like the person you remember.
Jean You’re not going to turn back that clock no matter what you put yourself physically and mentally. Just relax and celebrate what you are.
Have you been fashionistas forever?
Jean I started reading vogue when I was 13. We lived through the 80s with the shoulder pads, the 60s with the hippies – it gives you a historical perpective, so you don’t make the same mistakes again. We met at a vintage clothing show – Valerie was curating [Valerie was a Japanese-textile curator in a former life]. She approached me with an invitation to her show.
Valerie Jean had that look about her – a middle-aged woman who knows what textiles are all about. We celebrated the opening night and had a list of things in common, including the desire to wear clothes that interest us. You can’t go naked – you have to be dressed – so you might as well like what you’re wearing. It has to have something quirky about it. We’re of the Carnaby Street generation, and it was a very vibrant period. It follows you around. We didn’t come of age during the Eisenhower period. It was a whole revolution in thinking.
Jean I lived downtown and in ’77 I moved to Soho and it changed my life. Punk was hitting, and the galleries were starting. It was vibrant.
Can you give us some style tips?
Jean If you’re wearing a statement outfit, please figure out what statement you’re wearing. Not what someone on Madison Avenue tells you to wear.
Valerie Most of those statements say, This is safe to wear.
You both wear a lot of vintage…
Valerie Fashion is not made for us. Karl Lagerfeld doesn’t look at us when he makes his creations. There are a few niche designers who are good for women of our age – but primarily, they don’t want to know about you if you’re bigger than a size 0.
Jean When you get to be in your ’50 and ’60s, the red carpet dresses are not cutting it. They’re so form fitting, it’s absurd. We find designers who design for real women. Things that will move. But we do high and we do low. We go to H&M, too.
Valerie H&M is working on a budget, and that means they make it boxy. Half of my dress wardrobe is made of shifts – they hide all the things you want to hide and they move fabulously. And you don’t have to pay a $1000 for it.
Jean We wear long tube skirts under the short dress.
Valerie We mix it up. These days, it takes a lot of time and money to dress strictly in vintage, as well as a singularity of purpose. So it’s possible to do, but difficult. I don’t think I own a single complete outfit from any one period, although I would love to. We mix and match new with old. That removes items from their usual context, which revitalizes the way people look at them. Think Mick Jagger with long loose hair wearing an Edwardian velvet jacket, a shirt with lace cuffs, and a pair of jeans. So we might wear a new outfit with a vintage hat, for example, because the hat’s color or shape blends or contrasts well with the outfit. The edge comes from some element of surprise in the hat that is impossible to reproduce now.
Jean One of the things we try and get across to people is you have to find your own look. What colors work, what materials.
Do you shop online?
Valerie I shop online. I go to eBay because I’m looking for second-hand things. I stick with designers I’m familiar with, because that way I know the size will fit me. If it’s cheap, you have the freedom to put it back into the universe – give it to a thrift shop. Etsy has been a wonderful resource.
Jean I like flea markets. If it’s vintage, you need to see what condition it’s in.
Valerie The nice thing about the flea markets is, you go into one small room and if they have it, they have it and if they don’t have it, they don’t have it, and you get a wonderful mix in a very short amount of time. I look for textures on the rack.
With the enormous interest in Ari Seth Cohen’s “Advanced Style” blog, is fashion for older women the new black?
Jean We have more older people all the time, so it seems like an idea whose time has come.
Tell us about “aging with verve”
Jean Aging gracefully is an expression from my childhood and it seems to imply it’s time to fade into the background. For people who like the background, that’s fine, but we’re not done. We have things to say and things to do. We’re having a good time and we want to go out with verve.
Valerie We have wonderful role models in Iris Apfel and the late Zelda Kaplan. Zelda got up at two in the afternoon – because she’d been up partying till six in the morning. Zelda died in the most perfect way; she was in the front row at a fashion show.
Jean As you grow older, your interests might change and your life might change. But we live in New York City and we have access to so many things. We make it our business to take advantage of that. With MoMA and the Met and the Whitney…. The verve part is, we’re not on autopilot. We’re not going to fade into the background.
Before we spoke with Valerie and Jean, we Googled the word “idiosyncratic” to make sure we were clear on the exact meaning. Google performs an autofill of search phrases, based on popular searches. In other words, the phrases that it suggests as you type are those that most people have searched for in conjunction with the word or phrase you’re entering.
Here’s what came up – and, for your own lixiconical refreshment, a definition:
Here’s to sustained peculiarity and individuality as we age.
Top photo: Phil Oh for Stylecaster